Protestors call for climate action with Black Friday strike

Fridays for Future Toronto chapter organizes march ahead of United Nations Climate Change Conference

Protestors call for climate action with Black Friday strike

On Black Friday, Canada’s biggest shopping day of the year, hundreds of climate protestors took to the streets as a part of the Fridays for Future movement for action in response to the climate crisis, gathering in front of Queen’s Park for a rally before marching to City Hall. The strike also comes a few days before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25). Leaders will meet on December 2 in Spain to submit climate action plans ahead of the 2020 deadline, in accordance with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

“We are striking today, on Black Friday, because we want to call out the system that forces us to live unsustainable lives. Because many of us don’t have the time, the money, or the option to live another way,” said Fridays for Future Toronto Chapter Head Allie Rougeot to the crowd. In her speech, she affirmed Fridays for Future’s commitment to Indigenous sovereignty and called on political leaders to take drastic climate action at the COP25 conference.

“We are demanding that in Spain, they do their jobs of protecting us and working for us.”

One theme of the strike was criticizing the Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC) investment in fossil fuels, with marchers placing “Divest RBC” stickers on the storefront of the bank as they passed by it. Volunteers stood in front of the bank holding a banner that read, “Canada’s #1 Fossil Bank. Divest Now!”

In an interview with The Varsity, Rougeot reflected on the Black Friday strike, held over two months after the Global Climate Strike in Toronto, which saw the participation of around 15,000 people. “The turnout is definitely smaller [this time], but we expected a smaller turnout. What I really like is how much mightier it is.”

She described the central tenets of the strike and Fridays for Future as “a just transition for workers, Indigenous rights, and marginalized communities being included and us fighting for them.”

Rougeot, a U of T student, criticized the university’s “horrific” investment in fossil fuels. “As much as I want to be proud of my school, I will never be proud of my school until they divest.”

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

Similar to the Global Climate Strikes that took place in September, young people were particularly represented in this strike, with groups of middle- and high-school students striking together. Dunbarton High School student Devin Mathura commented on his presence at the strike with a large group of classmates: “We have to enforce the fight for climate change and [the fight] to declare a climate emergency by not going to school because why should we get an education when there’s not going to be a future for us?”

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

Seventeen-year-old climate activist Abonti Nur Ahmed spoke at the rally, criticizing the elitism of the climate movement. “I don’t remember the last time someone asked me how it was affecting my community and how it’s affecting the people that I know,” Ahmed said to the crowd.

In an interview with The Varsity, Ahmed said that the community she was representing was a politically disenfranchised one: “They don’t know how to fight for their own rights.” Her speech advocated for intersectionality in the climate movement, which she defines as not putting the blame on individuals, but rather understanding that systemic change needs to come before placing any burdens on already marginalized communities.

She hopes to inspire people to learn about intersectionality for themselves. “When I was speaking, the only thing that was in the back of my mind [was]: ‘I hope that people hear what I say and decide to go look up what intersectional climate change means,’ because I can say everything I want, but it has to start with the person’s passion.”

In Photos: U of T students join the Global Climate Strike in Toronto

Tens of thousands demand climate justice

In Photos: U of T students join the Global Climate Strike in Toronto

U of T students gathering outside of Sidney Smith

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

U of T students marching toward Queen’s Park. | DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

The rally at Queen’s Park

Aliénor Rougeot, head of Fridays for Future in Toronto giving her speech during the rally. | DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

University of Toronto students participating in the climate strike. | DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

The march in downtown Toronto

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

The beginning of the march. | DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

U of T professors, Toronto community leaders call on U of T to close campus for climate strike

Two recent open letters have over 1,500 signatures

U of T professors, Toronto community leaders call on U of T to close campus for climate strike

Earlier today, a group of University of Toronto professors sent an open letter to President Meric Gertler calling on the university to close campus on September 27 — the last day of the Global Climate Strike. This follows a letter sent to Gertler earlier this week by University–Rosedale MPP Jessica Bell calling for the same thing.

The letter from the U of T community proposes that campus be closed from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm so that the U of T community may participate in a rally at Queen’s Park, organized by Fridays for Future. The move stems from the belief that “everyone in [the U of T] community who wishes to participate should be supported and even encouraged to do so.”

This open letter was released to the public on September 23 at 11:00 am. Between then and 2:00 pm today, it has amassed over 1,500 signatures from U of T affiliates. According to Geography and Planning Professor Susan Ruddick, one of the authors, approximately 900 students, 300 faculty members, 80 staff members, and 43 librarians have added their names to the growing list of signees. The open letter will still be accepting endorsements at least until the end of this Wednesday.

The nine principal authors of this letter — eight professors and one librarian — have added their voices to a growing number of Toronto community members calling on the university to make greater accommodations for the Global Climate Strike rally.

The authors added that “anything short of campus closures will download responsibility for managing the uneven landscape of disruption arising from the strike (which we unequivocally support) on to individuals.”

Bell published a letter to Gertler proposing that classes be cancelled on Friday from 11:00 am until the late afternoon. In publishing this letter, Bell seeks to “[support] students and staff in standing up to climate change.” She also expressed her intention to attend the Global Climate Strike rally on Friday. 

Bell called on U of T to follow the lead of Québec universities in cancelling classes.

A number of U of T community leaders have signed Bell’s letter, including Maryssa Barras, External Commissioner of the Graduate Students’ Union; Emily Chu, Chair of Trinity College Meeting; Felipe Nagata, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario; and Simran Sawhney, President of the Woodsworth College Students’ Association. 

In an U of T News article released Tuesday night, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr announced support for individual faculties giving flexibility to students who want to attend the climate strike: “Where possible, faculties are showing flexibility for students to participate in the rally – and we support that approach,” said Regehr. Faculty of Arts & Science Dean Melanie Woodin, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering Dean Chris Yip, Faculty of Information Dean Wendy Duff, and UTSC’s Acting-Dean Maydianne Andrade are among the Deans that have asked instructors to support students who intend to strike on Friday.

Editor’s Note (September 25, 12:52 pm): This article has been updated to include comment from U of T.

Editor’s Note (October 6, 1:22 pm): This article has been updated to correct that Emily Chu is the Chair of the Trinity College Meeting.

U of T students join millions around the world in historic Global Climate Strike

Protestors voice discontent with university policy, Fridays for Future organized teach-in for children

U of T students join millions around the world in historic Global Climate Strike

On September 20, U of T students stood in solidarity with millions of protestors around the world in a historic Global Climate Strike to demonstrate against inaction surrounding the climate crisis. Inspired by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, the week-long strike kicked off on Friday in more than 150 countries where youth activists coordinated local events. Protestors gathered outside of Simcoe Hall to voice their anger and anxiety over the emergency, later moving to Hart House for a climate crisis teach-in.

Students speak out

“Which side are you on?” written in black paint, was stretched across a banner held by climate activists on the steps of Simcoe Hall, where students expressed their frustrations and anxieties about their future in the face of a climate crisis.

Students from Leap UofT led the rally. Their grievances were against the university’s involvement in the development of the Mauna Kea Thirty Meter Telescope, continued investment in the fossil fuel industry, and inaction over the mental health crisis on campus.

The last major environmental protest took place four years ago during a divestment campaign that led to the formation of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Divestment. The committee’s recommendations — including targeted divestment — were rejected by President Meric Gertler in 2016, who instead mandated a case-by-case approach to divesting from companies involved in the fossil fuel industry.

“An administration that does not know how to treat any land with care because of the same undergirding logics that lead it to treat people as fungible, as disposable, as less,” said vocal mental health advocate and U of T student Lucinda Qu, in a rebuke of the university’s policies on climate and mental health. Qu was among an array of speakers, including local climate activists and lawyers from Climate Justice Toronto.

New Democratic Party MP candidate for Spadina–Fort York Diana Yoon joined students in their protest. “I think that it’s important to amplify and support youth-led movements,” said Yoon in an interview with The Varsity.

“The role of a university should be to play a leadership role in showcasing what is possible,” said Yoon on what the university can do in fighting the climate crisis. “I think it’s a microcosm of a bigger picture, of a larger society… There’s so much potential to showcase what young people are demanding.”

Hart House teach-in

Outside of Hart House, Fridays for Future’s Toronto chapter organized facilitator-led group sessions to teach children about how to discuss the climate crisis. At the event, presenters sang songs and led cheers with a crowd of school-aged children, asking them to connect with the environment. “All the science has been there for years. We didn’t listen. The mass protests have been there. Why is the kids’ aspect working better than the rest? And how can we empower all the kids that are coming… to have meaningful conversations, especially right before a big election,” said Allie Rougeot, head of Fridays for Future in Toronto, in an interview with The Varsity.

Nadine, a second-year student at U of T, led a small group in a session on how to speak to politicians about the climate crisis: “I’m specifically trying to teach kids, trying to teach other students… how to effectively respond and speak with politicians, because they’re the ones who create the change.”

Gabriel Kerekes, another facilitator, led a session about talking to family members for around 30 elementary-aged students, and encouraged them to think about compassion and diversity.

“You don’t have to be angry at your parents if they don’t understand you right now, or even if they don’t understand you at all, because you’re part of something way, way, way bigger. This is your family too, and together we can all work together to influence one another,” explained Kerekes during his group session. He explained to The Varsity that communicating with family members is a stepping stone to communicating to anyone.

“Every single one of us is having an issue with communication,” said Kerekes. “We don’t know how to tell people in a way that they can get on board with the issues at hand for a variety of reasons.”

Katia Newton, 15, skipped school along with her friends to attend the teach-in. “If you’re not actually helping or doing things, even if it’s just showing up to a protest, then you can’t really say that you’re helping. But you can’t just complain and then not do anything. But it’s a big issue and it’s going to impact us, especially the younger generations — and we can’t even vote yet. But we can show up and we can do what we can,” Newton said.

Parker and Ziggy, both 15, had the same idea. “We can’t just sit idly by — this is our world. It’s being passed down to us. We’re not going to just let old people shit on our planet. It’s ours now,” said Parker.

U of T and climate

Steve Easterbrook, Director of U of T’s School of the Environment, also attended the rally, and said he was inspired by the student protests: “I support the youth that are getting out there on the streets… I work on climate change, climate modeling, and it’s the most hopeful sign I’ve seen in years.”

Easterbrook, wearing a sign that read “I’m a Scientist, Ask Me Anything,” said of climate science: “People don’t realize that once carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere, it basically stays there for thousands of years,” unlike many other air pollutants.

According to the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation’s 2018 Carbon Footprint Reports, the combined total carbon footprint of the university’s pension fund and endowment fund is over 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Esterbrook also said of U of T’s administration, “I would love to see a much stronger statement from the central administration supporting the students that want to get out and take action.”

Jessica Bell, MPP for University–Rosedale, attended the teach-in and hosted workshops teaching children how to talk to politicians about the climate crisis. Just a day before, Bell’s office released an online form collecting signatures for a letter calling on Gertler and the university to “support student, faculty and staff participation in the Global Climate Strike on Friday, September 27, 2019.”

In an email to faculty and students on September 22, Faculty of Arts & Science Dean Melanie Woodin requested that instructors provide flexibility for students who do not attend class on Friday, September 27 to join the Toronto climate strike.

Elizabeth Church, spokesperson for the university, held firm on the university’s commitments to the environment in an email to The Varsity: “[We] are committed to playing a leadership role in addressing climate change through our research, our teaching and by taking action to reduce the carbon footprint of our campuses.”

In a U of T News article, John Robinson — Gertler’s Presidential Advisor on the Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability — advised students to participate in events across the university.

“We encourage students to use the opportunity of the climate-related events going on at U of T and in the community to learn more about climate change and climate action.”

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Editor’s Note (September 25, 2:53pm): This article has been updated to correct a quote by Qu.

UTSG administration’s lack of support for the Global Climate Strike reflects its greenwashing practices

Institutional support is a first step toward quantifiable climate action, as seen at UTM

UTSG administration’s lack of support for the Global Climate Strike reflects its greenwashing practices

Taking a legitimate stance against the climate crisis is a serious commitment for large institutions. It’s no surprise then that each campus has taken a different stance on the crisis, as priorities between the administrations seem to differ drastically.

Just a minute spent searching for anything related to ‘UTM’ and ‘environment’ shows how the administration has been working to emphasize the importance of mobilizing students in the present. As the only one of the three campuses to offer workshops and resources in relation to the official Climate Strike, UTM’s stance largely aligns with what youth climate activists tell us we should be doing about the climate crisis.

On September 20, youth in over 100 countries united to demand stronger climate action from governments, institutions, and corporations. At this moment, UTM’s administration and student body appear to be unified, with UTM offering a combination of administration-sanctioned online resources and physical workshops preparing students for climate activism.

The same cannot be said for UTSG, where it’s clear that students will have to strike without administrative support. Faculty of Arts & Science Dean Melanie Woodin sent an email to students on September 22 in support of the strike, but so far central administration has been silent. This is not to say that UTSG students are not exposed to climate activism on campus, because such a statement would discredit the organizations that are advocating for this cause. But that’s just it: with an extremely diverse student population of 61,690 students, as of fall 2018, placing the onus on student organizations to lead their peers in climate activism is ambitious and bordering unreasonable. For reference, UTM had 15,546 students enrolled in that same period, which is nearly a quarter of UTSG’s enrollment. Administrative support would help UTSG students navigate climate activism and mobilize around a central organizer. U of T is consistently named one of the top three universities in Canada, and to deny its influence in the realm of Canadian politics and policy would be naïve.

In the same way that you would not enforce the same environmental policies in two different countries, it’s clear that efforts of engagement across the different campuses must vary as well. This is not a request for the administration to hold the students’ hands and guide them, but rather a simple call for the university administration to encourage students to take a stance on the climate crisis beyond just scholarly pursuit.

It is imperative that we do not forget that the current wave of climate activism has largely been a bottom-up social movement. Through grassroots organizations, the climate crisis has become one of the most serious political questions facing current and future politicians.

Greenwashing at U of T

The bureaucracy that governs the three U of T campuses is complicated and messy, to say the least. But much like other major Canadian universities such as the University of British Columbia and McGill University, the UTSG administration is also guilty of greenwashing.

‘Greenwashing’ can be thought of as the act of implementing misleading pro-environment practices for the sole purpose of bolstering an organization’s reputation. There is nothing wrong with phasing out plastic cutlery and creating sustainable spaces on campus, but how big is the impact of those actions compared to divesting from the fossil fuel industry?

In 2016, U of T refused to divest despite student protests and the Presidential Advisory Committee’s recommendations. Instead, U of T declared it would make more conscious investments that account for socio-environmental concerns, namely the climate crisis.

Divestment from the fossil fuel industry is not the only action that U of T can take to support efforts against the climate crisis, but it is worth remembering that one of the main drivers of the crisis is directly related to our consumption of fossil fuels. With that in mind, it becomes difficult to understand how rejecting divestment is compatible with U of T’s commitment to sustainability. Instead, it appears that U of T decided to slap ‘sustainable’ on their finances and call it a night.

But what does a three-year-old divestment campaign have to do with the upcoming climate strike? It all has to do with the fact that, three years later, the administration still takes part in greenwashing. It’s no surprise that U of T faced significant backlash after turning down divestment, but since then, the administration has taken important steps to cover up many of its less popular environmental approaches.

Some of these actions include founding the U7+ Alliance, designating funds for student research on sustainability, and participating in the University Climate Change Coalition. All of these actions improve the university’s reputation and help to support students interested in sustainability. However, none of these really represent a hard-lined stance against the climate crisis as well as official support for the Global Climate Strike would.

The effect that committing to the strike will have cannot be quantified, but it is still an opportunity to communicate the urgency of the situation and apply pressure where it counts. No matter what campus you’re at, what faculty you may be in, or what college you choose, just remember that you have a voice and that the choices you make can help cause change. Historically, the environmental movement has largely been bottom-up, with public outcry as one of its main driving forces.

This is not a free pass for U of T and other large institutions alike to pass off the responsibility to youth, when the climate crisis is very much an issue that indiscriminately affects everyone. However, for those of you reading this who feel fatigued and overwhelmed, remember that there is a community here that is willing to listen.

As we get closer and closer to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 11-year deadline to minimize rising temperatures, we have to accept that we are at a point where we must make real concessions in our fight against the climate crisis. The Global Climate Strike may seem revolutionary or aggressive to some, but we need to be ambitious in order to succeed.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Beverly Teng is a third-year Environmental Science and Philosophy student at University College.

UTM’s support for the Global Climate Strike sets an important example for other campuses

Efforts to engage students are meaningful, organized, direct

UTM’s support for the Global Climate Strike sets an important example for other campuses

This September, individuals and organizations around the world will join together in a global demonstration to demand climate action and an end to the age of fossil fuels. U of T’s Mississauga campus has been involved in organizing events in support of the Global Climate Strike. For instance, UTM held a banner-making workshop in preparation for the walkout on September 20. On both September 20 and 27, people from around the world will have walked out of homes, schools, and workplaces to show their dissatisfaction over inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

UTM is helping along the strike by sharing resources and information on the movement, and hosting teach-ins, talks, and workshops throughout the week. UTSG administration hasn’t released any statements on the issue, though Faculty of Arts & Science Dean Melanie Woodin sent an email on September 22 in support of the strike.

By supporting this cause, UTM is showing that it is listening to the concerns of its students and taking the climate crisis seriously. Its support of this movement conveys that it understands the importance of climate action, especially for young people. While climate change will affect everyone, it is young people who are particularly distraught, as their entire futures are under urgent  threat.

As a 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — a United Nations body — report stated, the world only has between one and three decades to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically before we face catastrophic climate destruction.

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish student, is the face of youth activism against the climate crisis today. Thunberg, like millions of students around the world, sees everything that she works and strives toward, including her education and her future career, being in jeopardy due to the actions — and inactions — of corporations, politicians, and individuals. The Global Climate Strike is a demand from young people around the world to world leaders for an urgent response to the climate crisis and divestment from fossil fuel industries to world leaders.

By supporting this cause and encouraging involvement in climate action, UTM is acting as a visible leader in the fight against the climate crisis. It is validating the concerns of its student body, and in doing so, it shows that it does not view its students merely as masses of numbers or tuition checks, but recognizes them as the future of this country and the world at large.

Recently, U of T moved up to be the 18th-best university in the world, according to Times Higher Education. Students at this university are some of the brightest around the globe, and have the potential to affect positive change in whatever they choose to pursue. By participating in this movement, UTM is not just supporting climate action; it is safeguarding the future of its students. This stance is one that UTSG and UTSC should follow as well, because when you encourage young people to advocate for their future, they will be that much more empowered to change this world for the better.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Hafsa Ahmed is a third-year Political Science student at UTM.

UTM to participate in Global Climate Strike

Teach-ins, banner-making workshops, documentary viewing among organized events

UTM to participate in Global Climate Strike

UTM will be holding a series of events in support of the Global Climate Strikes taking place on September 20 and 27, which coincides with the upcoming United Nations (UN) Climate Action Summit that aims to present viable plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Climate change is clearly one of the most, if not the most, important issues of our time… The Strike represents a pedagogic moment that UTM wanted to be part of,” wrote UTM Media Relations spokesperson Nicolle Wahl to The Varsity.

Classes at UTM will not be cancelled on the days of the strikes. However, in an email, former acting Vice-President and Principal Amrita Daniere encouraged faculty to be mindful of the walkouts and to remind their students to request accommodations should they participate.

In coordination with local groups, UTM is arranging drop-in workshops for making banners supporting climate justice, one-hour sessions with professors from various facilities, and TED-style climate talks.

An event titled “Meltdown: A Climate Change Summit” will be hosted at The Maanjiwe nendamowinan Building on September 24, bringing environment and health experts, including former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dr. Diane Saxe, to discuss the impact of climate change on health.

The week of Climate Strike events will conclude on September 25 with an outdoor screening of ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch  a multiple-award winning documentary focusing on the Anthropocene Working Group.

As part of a global effort, the Climate Strike aims to “declare a climate emergency and show our politicians what action in line with climate science and justice means,” according to its website. The global strikes are inspired by school strikers, like activist Greta Thunberg, who has been leaving class every Friday since last August in protest of the climate crisis.

In a video in support of the Global Climate Strike, Thunberg said, “This shouldn’t be the children’s responsibility. Now the adults also need to help us, so we are calling for them to strike from their work because we need everyone.”

Climate change is clearly one of the most, if not the most, important issues of our time

U of T faced criticism in 2016 when President Meric Gertler opted not to divest from all fossil fuel companies, instead choosing to assess investments individually.

The UN Climate Action Summit, occurring the same week as the strikes, is urging world leaders to enact plans that address more than just fossil fuel mitigation and encouraging countries to move forward in fully transitioning to sustainable economies. This includes prioritizing renewable forms of energy, such as solar and wind, and removing subsidies for fossil fuels.

The UN also emphasized that these climate action plans must not add to economic inequality and that those negatively affected by shifts toward renewable energy production must be given new opportunities.

UTSG and UTSC have not announced any events for the Global Climate Strike. A full list of UTM’s Global Climate Strike events with dates and locations can be found on their website.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.